For today’s blog I bring you two stories with an accompanying reflection on the ongoing journey of Joining Jesus in the new Missional Age. We will begin with with the reflection by Al Roxburgh and Fiona Watts of The Missional Network and guides along ECCT’s Joining Jesus journey.
When new energy is found in risking
Fiona Watts and Al Roxburgh
One of our great joys in working with numerous church systems is seeing the contagious energy among people in congregations as they tentatively step into the Joining Jesus journey. When Al was with the Connecticut teams for our Saturday gathering in late September, people from across congregations were sharing stories of their walks and listening connections with people in their communities. Their stories filled the room with energy and brought tears of joy to many of us.
Fiona was in conversation with the leader of a group in another Diocese who reported a similar change in energy and joy. One woman, who was about to walk away from her congregation, reluctantly agreed to join one of the groups that was travelling out into the neighborhood to listen and sense the stories that were present amongst people. After some initial involvement she shared how her whole attitude had changed because she found that her experiences, her stories and her capacities to connect with people were being given place. She felt like she was participating in something that was vital and giving her life.
We have heard other stories from leaders who are noticing energy bubbling up from the people in their congregation who are taking some new risks and beginning to learn how to be with others in the places where they go about their everyday living. One leader described the energy amongst the group as they shared their listening stories together. They were being stretched beyond themselves to listen and wonder about what God was already doing out ahead of them in their communities.
After that meeting was over, many of them were part of the regularly scheduled business meeting of the congregation. What struck this leader was the divergence between the two meetings – one seemed to deplete energy among people, the other was giving life and created a sense of a congregation that was connecting to its community. Joining Jesus isn’t a panacea. There’s lots of learning and risking involved in listening well and being with people in our communities. But over and over again, we see how it is a journey that is creating a sense of life and energy to those involved.
I offer to you two stories from one of our parishes we have been following throughout the year, St. John’s, Vernon. Both stories highlight how their participation in Joining Jesus with their communities has begun to spill over into their lives, particularly while traveling. Kelli Peters shares her story of an unexpected conversation on an airplane; Gretchen Shea shares her encounter with a pilgrim in Madrid and the power of listening.
In August I was traveling to Utah for work. As soon as I sat down on the flight I purchased the wifi ($17 😆) and had a long to do list to get through to ensure I could be fully present at my conference for the next 4 days. What ended up happening was much better though.
The gentleman sitting next to me ended up engaging me in a conversation. Even though I resisted at first, after all I had purchased the wifi and had a to do list! He was so kind and curious about my life and eager to tell me about his. I thought about our work with Joining Jesus and decided that this was a perfect opportunity to listen, to learn, and to be with someone.
We ended up having an amazing conversation about everything from nutrition, to parenting, to navigating our crazy world. He then “Jesus’d” me by asking about my faith and the conversation took an even deeper turn. The woman next to us joined in and we had a lovely time discussing the works of Jesus and how we see God play out in our everyday lives.
We are still in contact and email frequently!
In October, I was returning home from a vacation in Croatia. Bargain travel from Croatia can involve multiple flight changes in Europe and plenty of opportunities for disruption. Luckily, I found out about my flight cancellation well in advance allowing me to find a low cost “airport” hotel in Madrid for my unexpected layover.
I am a seasoned solo traveler and an introverted one, prepared with hardcopy and audible books, podcasts, games and a change of clothes in my backpack. My luggage on its way to JFK on its own. I was pleased with myself as a phone call to the hotel resulted in a shuttle coming out at 10 PM to take me right to the door. After a long day of travel this was a welcome development.
My luck continued as I saw the shuttle bus as soon as I walked outside the terminal and climbed inside to join two other travelers who had selected the same low-cost hotel. My normal introverted demeanor must have been transformed by my good fortune, or my effort to be more open, because as soon as I climbed on board, a gentleman on the bus asked me.
“Were you on El Camino?”
I felt something powerful in the question and somewhere in my mind I recalled El Camino meant walk in Spanish. I said “No, were you?” He said yes, and that he thought because I was traveling with just a backpack that maybe I had been on the pilgrimage.
From that point his story burst forth – a story he needed to share, and one I was privileged to hear. He related his journey of a well-planned pilgrimage and all the varied people he interacted with along the way. And how it became clear he was meant to be in each place and meet the people he met. He shared the diversity of who he met along the way – diverse in terms of motivation, preparedness, coping skills, physicality, ethnicity and language And then he told me about one of his last nights on the journey that stunned me in it power, and the power of listening.
This particular evening, he chose to stay at a hotel as he did every third or fourth day. These are busy stays he does laundry, shares a good meal with other pilgrims, replenishes food, and anticipates good night’s sleep in a private room. On this evening as he prepared for bed, he heard sobbing, anguished, painful sobbing from the adjacent room. It was unnerving and disconcerting. I couldn’t imagine how I would feel or what I would do in a similar situation.
He was compelled to knock on the door, and it opened to show one of his fellow El Camino pilgrims in desolation. He knew her, and knew she was on the journey dedicated to the life of her daughter who had passed away the previous year. It was not a joyful journey for her as she walked with the burden of grief. And then the unthinkable happened. News reached her that her husband had committed suicide while she was on this pilgrimage. This man held her, prayed for her, with no idea what to do or how to do it. And he stayed with her through those perilous hours it took to join her with her family.
It was overwhelmingly clear to him (and me) that he was meant to be there – the pilgrimage, the hotel room to do the Lord’s work. And in the dark of the van there was a certainty that came from this story that he was meant to tell it and I was meant to hear it. His story of listening to help another during those incomprehensible first moments after devastatingly cruel news has stayed with me.
He listened, and that power came through to me in the retelling. I listened.